Minnesota Refugee Population
There are currently between 17.2 million refugees in the world today who have been forced to flee their homelands because of persecution based on their race, nationality, religion, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. One of the most common questions asked of Arrive Ministries staff is “how do refugees get chosen to come to the U.S. and Minnesota?”
The U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) is only one of many ways the U.S. supports the protection and search for durable solutions for refugees in the world. In fact, third country refugee resettlement is often the method of last resort.
The United States is a nation founded by immigrants. Because our founding fathers understood what it was like to live under oppression, they enshrined basic human liberties in the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights. Among these are democracy, freedom of religion, speech and assembly, protection from cruel and unusual punishment, and the right to due process of the law. These are things which many people around the world live without, even today.
For over 200 years, the U.S. has offered refuge to people fleeing persecution in their home countries. The Statue of Liberty stands today as a universal symbol of freedom and democracy.
Minnesota has a rich tradition of welcoming immigrants and refugees. In fact, in the year 1900, immigrants made up 29% of Minnesota’s population, two-thirds of whom were from Germany, Sweden, and Norway. In 2000, immigrants made up only 5.3% of Minnesota’s population. One common misperception about immigration “then and now” is that immigrants in 1900 assimilated faster than they do now. However, we forget that Minnesotans in 1900 could go to a church service and read a newspaper in their home language, and may have lived and worked with people from their home country.
Refugees are a specific category of immigrants who have fled persecution in their home country, are unable to integrate into another country, and have no other durable solutions. Many times refugees come from camps, where they were warehoused for years or decades with no possibility of returning home or settling in the neighboring country.
Since 1979, Minnesota has welcomed more than 90,000 refugees directly, and many others have moved to Minnesota from other states. The largest groups historically were Hmong, Somalis, Vietnamese, Ethiopians, Liberians, Cambodians, Bosnians, and people from the Former Soviet Union. The most recent refugee groups to arrive in Minnesota include Karen and other refugees from Burma, Nepali-speaking refugees from Bhutan and Iraqis. In total, Minnesota has received refugees from over 90 countries since 1979.
Immigration has dramatically changed the Twin Cities during the past century. For example, the Cedar Riverside neighborhood in Minneapolis was home to a large Scandinavian community in the late 1890s. It became an artistic neighborhood in the 1960s and 1970s with a large population of “hippies.” Today it is home to a large Somali community. The area has been nicknamed “Mogadishu on the Mississippi.”
There are many reasons why refugees make their new home here in Minnesota. Their motivations are similar to those of other Minnesotan residents – good schools, robust social services, an active arts community, relatively low unemployment, and friendly, welcoming people. Refugee communities have thrived in Minnesota in the past, taking advantage of historically high employment and affordable housing. While these characteristics have soured with the current economic environment, new refugees continue to come to Minnesota to join family, friends, and well-established refugee communities.
Did you know?
- Minneapolis is home to more Somalis than any other city in the U.S.
- St. Paul has the largest Hmong community in the U.S.
- The Liberian populations in Brooklyn Center and Brooklyn Park are some of the largest communities in the U.S.
- St. Paul has a growing population of Karen, a minority ethnic group from Burma, and is currently the largest in the U.S.
- There are five Somali malls in the Twin Cities.
- Babani’s, a restaurant in St. Paul was the first Kurdish Restaurant to open in the U.S.
- The Philips Neighborhood is the most diverse in the entire US. with over 100 ethnic groups represented in the neighborhood
- You do not have to go far to find delicious ethnic food, exotic spices, produce, or ethnic markets. The International Market Directory published by the University of Minnesota lists over 85 ethnic restaurants, markets, and places to experience the culinary diversity of the Twin Cities.
Major refugee groups resettling in the Twin Cities:
- refugees from the Former Soviet Union
- Hmong from Laos
- Karen from Burma
In addition to the ethnic specific information, the following websites provide useful background information: